Barry Eisler Interview

Enthusiastic publishers around the world have become enthralled by John Rain, a strikingly fresh new thriller hero and a character destined to be one of the most talked-about of the seasonEnthusiastic publishers around the world have become enthralled by John Rain, a strikingly fresh new thriller hero and a character destined to be one of the most talked-about of the season. Born of an American mother and a Japanese father, Rain is a businessman based in Tokyo, living a life of meticulously planned anonymity. Trained by the U.S. Special Forces and a veteran of Vietnam, he is a cool, self-contained loner — and he has built a steady business over the past twenty-five years specializing in death by “natural causes.” He is also a man struggling with his own divided nature: Japanese/American; soldier/assassin; samurai/ronin.

From its richly atmospheric and ominous opening pages — in which we witness the death of a stranger in a crowded subway car — Rain’s carefully ordered world begins to unravel. Unknown agents from within and without the international intelligence communities have been circling him for years and, having connected him to the subway job, now have the scent they have been seeking. At the same time, Rain is drawn outside his private world by an alluring jazz pianist, the dead man’s daughter, who is the key to the very secrets that her father died trying to reveal.

Rights to Rain Fall have been sold in Brazil, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. -From the Publishers Website

Grapplers (Onthemat readers) should be excited to know that going against the typical grain grappling techniques are vividly described in the books many action sequences (in both John Rain`s “field” work and in a visit to the famous Kudokan). Hardly surprising, actually, when you consider Barry Eisler`s background in both judo and jiu-jitsu. Rain Fall is an exciting novel (particularly for an author`s first work) with many twists and turns from start to finish. John Rain is deeply complex character and an excellent narrator; the novel`s strengths are in most definitely in the well defined characters and the excellent descriptions which make you feel as if you are walking through downtown Tokyo. Rain Fall is definitely recommended for your summer reading list.

We were lucky enough to get a QA with Rain Fall author Barry Eisler where he discusses more background on his novel, the character of John Rain, and (of course) grappling.

Interview with Barry Eisler

Q: What made you want to write a novel, particularly a thriller?

I’ve always loved to write. When I was a kid I wrote short stories. In college I took writing courses. In law school I wrote a column for the school newspaper. And as a lawyer I wrote articles for legal and other publications.

While I was living in Tokyo in 1993-94, a vivid image came to me, in which two men were following another down Dogenzaka street in Shibuya. I don’t know where the image came from, or why it was so clear, but I began to think about it. Who are those two men? Why are they following the other? Then an answer came: They’re assassins. They’re going to kill him. It felt like a story, and it was natural for me to start writing to see if I could figure out more, to see what was going to happen next.

I don’t know why the story came out as a thriller. It just feels natural for me to write thrillers. I don’t know if this will always be the case, but, for now, when I start to write, the story seems to become a thriller.

Q: How long did you research this book? The descriptions of Japan are quite vivid and the espionage portions seem very apt.

In a sense I started researching the book way back in high school, when I first got involved in the martial arts. I’ve wrestled, boxed, done karate, trained in judo in Japan, and, most recently, have taken up Brazilian jiujitsu at the Ralph Gracie academy in Mountain View, California. All this experience informs the unarmed combat scenes in the book, although none of it really felt like research at the time because training is fun. Likewise for the depictions of Japan — I’ve read widely on Japanese history and culture, lived in Japan for three years, and have traveled back and forth there more times than I can count, all of which in one sense counts as research, but in another sense never really felt that way because I enjoyed all of it so much. As for the espionage portions, this is another longstanding interest and I own a number of books on the subject. Reading about spycraft has always been a hobby, although in retrospect I realize it also served the function of research.

Q: Who is John Rain? Is he based on anyone in particular? What was the inspiration behind him?

John Rain is a guy who was raised in two countries but accepted in neither. Also, he had some unpleasant experiences in Vietnam as a member of US Special Forces. All of which has served to forge a highly cynical persona. Today he lives in Tokyo, where for the last 25 years he has been killing people at the behest of corrupt elements in the Japanese government and making those deaths look as though they’ve occurred of natural causes.

Mostly Rain is a product of my imagination, although there are some people I’ve known who have qualities that have found their way into the character. Part of the inspiration for the character was my own experience of being treated like a visitor in the place where I lived (Tokyo). For me, this was a comfortable experience, because in fact I was a visitor there. But the experience did cause me to wonder what it would be like to be treated as a visitor in a place that you considered to be your home, which is the nature of Rain’s formative experiences.

Q: What about Rain’s perspective of being half gaijin, half Japanese?

Rain got picked on a lot as a kid in both countries because he was a “half-breed,” and the experience affected him in a number of ways. It instilled a sense that he doesn’t belong anywhere, that he doesn’t have a home. Also, the bullying steered him into his lifelong practice of judo and other martial arts, and gave him an early introduction into the practice of guerilla warfare as he evaded his tormenters and struck back on his own terms. These alienating experiences also impelled him to volunteer for service with US Special Forces in Vietnam, in part out of a desire to “prove” that he was really American. Rain never liked being “mixed,” although today, as an adult, he has accepted who he is and what he does.

Q: Actually, I think Rain and I would get along just fine. He likes jazz, single malt scotch and grappling.

I agree. I think he’d like you. Just don’t betray him… he responds unfavorably to that kind of thing.

Q: Speaking of grappling, this is probably the first time I can recall seeing grappling as the primary fighting technique in a novel. Tryin to promote grappling, or the inevitable wave of the future.

It’s true (and unfortunate) that you don’t see so much grappling in movies and fiction. I think this has something to do with the inherent theatricality of high kicks and punch-outs. But this theatricality is achieved at the expense of realism, as anyone who has been in a few fights or has watched the UFC can attest. Realism is important to me in my writing — in my depictions of Tokyo, in my descriptions of spycraft, and certainly in my creation of the various unarmed combat sequences in the book. Anyone who is serious about self-defense has to be acquainted with grappling, and I’ve written the book’s fight scenes to reflect this truth.

Q: You earned your judo black belt from the Kodokan International Judo Center in Tokyo. What was that like?

Awesome! The Kodokan is an incredible place to train. It draws quality people from all over the world, all of them united by a common love of judo. I met people from Africa, Europe, and the Middle-east (and, of course, many Americans and Japanese). Many of them were doing odd jobs, like working in gas stations and bowling alleys, just to make ends meet so they could train six days a week. Some of these people spoke English, but many others spoke only their own language and Japanese, and it was a fascinating experience to become friendly, for example, with a couple of guys from Iran with only Japanese as our common language. Because the Kodokan draws such an eclectic and motivated group of people, the quality of instruction is high and the training is intense. Great place.

Q: Any other thoughts on penning a first time novel? Advice to aspiring writers out there?

The main thing is just to keep at it. If there’s something you love (in my case Japan, judo, and jazz, all in a thriller setting) and you’re driven to write about it, do it! Don’t worry about getting it published, at least not at first. Just write it because it pleases you. Don’t worry about how long the whole thing might take; just focus on setting aside an hour a day (or whatever) and eventually you’ll make it happen. Don’t get discouraged and don’t stop believing in yourself.

Thanks for your time, and congratulations on the success of your first novel!

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About the author


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